Nigel Stanford – Solar Echoes – Dark Sun
There are Writers out there who prefer “The Sound of Silence”—literally—over any type of music, in order to mitigate distractions while they write. Then there are the rest of us.
As Writers, we often talk about the Playlists we use for inspiration and visualization. We seem to gravitate to music and songs that lend themselves to unveiling the emotions of the scenes we’re writing into our stories. Sometimes, we don’t even know why a particular tune meshes so well with our ideas. And the music may not even be from a style we normally listen to, yet it evokes a feeling we can’t shake off, becoming inextricably bound with a scene, an event, or a character we initially tied to it. So, let’s examine this symbiosis of music and writing.
From Time Immemorial
Music has been with us—with mankind—since our origin. There seems to be something in the rhythm of life, in the sounds found in nature, driving us to imitate, emulate, and extrapolate. The susurration of wind through the branches of trees, the burbling of water across stones, the steady pounding of waves upon breakers along the shore, the twitter and peeping and melodious lilting of birdsong. All these outside influences around us have drawn us to try to be part of the music, prompting us to reach deep within and fashion something worthy of the worldly concert.
And we’ve done so, in small steps and stages all throughout the ages. If you want to read a fairly thorough treatise on the subject, follow the link on the logo for History World. It’ll definitely make you pause and rethink how we got the sheer variety of musical entertainment we have today, based on the humble beginnings of percussion with hands and sticks, and only our voices in the twilight beside the embers of a fire.
Imagine the novelty a hollowed out bone flute added as accompaniment to the voices and hand-claps! The rattle of a rough washboard surface added a slight syncopation, while a hollow tube bull-roarer slung in circles gave an undercurrent of constant sound to the production. Did the first users of conch shells intend to call forth creatures from the sea? When someone realized a hide stretched over a hollow tube could thump out louder and more distinctly, who started driving the rhythm of the dance? The ingenious soul who figured out reeds of differing lengths with a notch cut in them could conjure whistling sounds was likely the idol of many generations. And the hunter who took note of the tension of the bow and its vibration during a shot paved the way for all stringed instruments. Harps and lyres; cymbals and bells; and a host of other innovations added to the variety as instruments kept coming, building momentum as each type of sound was tinkered with so it fit into the mix.
Written poetry became lyrics. Voices were categorized by octaves. Choirs were formed, both in the big-box churches and in the taverns. Bards and minstrels and troupes of performers traveled to share their multi-media presentations in far-off lands.
Stringed instruments morphed into harpsichords, then into the forerunners of pianos. Oratorios, odeums, and operas continually drew larger crowds; people whose emotions awakened with the kinetic performances, who walked away changed because of the beauty they’d witnessed. And the telling of those experiences made even more people seek out those arts. Chamber music and concertos and symphonies all came into being at the hands of musicians who paid attention to what stirred the soul, and the music of the world became more complex, more subtle, more desirable.
And the rush of invention has only added more choices of sound. Sometimes we’ve drawn upon the old sounds of aboriginal instruments. Other times, we’ve pushed the boundaries of technology to fashion artificial electronic noises that—somehow—still strike a resonating chord within our psyche because of the way they’re presented or mixed with analog instruments. And all of it, all of it, all of it is music, and it moves and flows and touches us, and as soon as it ends makes us crave more.
You’re My Type
Classical. Opera. Symphony. Show Tunes. Contemporary Pop. Country. Bluegrass. Jazz. Blues. Rock and Roll. Heavy Metal. Grunge. Euro-Trash. Emo. Electronica. Trance. Dance.
What different styles of music have courted you throughout your life? Which ones have you decided to go steady with? Consider for a moment how those songs and music have affected you, perhaps shaped your thinking about certain topics. Doubtless there are lyrics you’ve made your mantra to navigate some of life’s situations. And in your quiet moments, don’t you call upon the tunes and rhythms to keep you entertained inside your head? Yeah, you’ve got your own personal soundtrack, don’t you?
As a Writer, you’ve likely developed a Playlist of songs / tunes as your go-to soundtrack to spark creativity. Something to run in the background as a moving unseen tapestry woven into the emotional content of your story. Perhaps you have several Playlists, depending on if you want to imbue your writing with sensual emotions for love scenes, or hard-punching percussion passages for the fight scenes and battles, or the airy lilting of ambient soundscapes to help you imagine and describe a foreign landscape. Different needs, different styles of music.
Me? I opt for tunes without lyrics. I want the music itself to impinge in such a way it opens the sluice gates of my imagination. I gravitate toward some classical, some jazz, but mostly I prefer ambient electronic melodies. Not the atonal shifting milieu of sounds; but rather, the free-flowing tunes that have a gradually building thematic element to carry my thoughts outward and back, causing me to imagine scenes, actions, characters in motion and interactions.
I know some Writers have capitalized on the use of lyrics or ideas taken from popular songs, and I’ve done so throughout my blogs to capture attention with similes for the ideas I present. I don’t typically do so within the context of most of my stories, especially those in fantasy and futuristic settings. However, I did write one short story, “Flesh of My Flesh,” where I put the the song “Janie’s Got a Gun” by Aerosmith on (Repeat <<) or hummed it to myself the whole time I was writing it. Couldn’t shake it loose. It was a kernel of the idea that got the tale rolling and it just stuck hard to the intro and a scene about halfway through. So…yeah. Music + Writing.
Play Misty for Me
Now it’s your turn to regale me for a few moments. What’s your take on music as background / motivation while you write? What are your favorite styles? What are your favorite tunes? Drop me a line and let’s share some interesting anecdotes about how this kinetic ephemeral art has aided you in your craft.
P.S. If you’re interested in the effects of sound, consider these two offerings: